Backboard and ball machine manufacturers frequently tout the aerobic benefits of hitting against a wall or tennis machine.
The thing is, tennis is anaerobic.
Calorie Burning Fact: Anaerobic exercise burns more calories than aerobic exercise. According to the Mayo Clinic, a 160-lb. person will burn 511 calories per hour doing high-impact aerobics, but 584 calories playing tennis singles. Can you do high-impact aerobics for an hour straight? Do you ever play tennis for less than an hour?
- Aerobic exercise uses low-twitch muscle fibers; tennis uses high-twitch muscle fibers.
- Aerobic exercise burns a different mix of fat and glycogen than singles tennis.
- Aerobic exercise burns fewer calories than tennis.
- Aerobic exercise doesn’t train your recovery system (so you can recover after points).
- Aerobic exercise occurs at a lower heart rate.
- Aerobic exercise produces lactic acid that inhibits muscle contractions.
Avoid aerobic workouts on a ball machine for fitness because they will not only cause you to hit many tired, late, incorrect strokes, but will also train your body to move slower. If it’s OK with your doctor, try higher-intensity, anaerobic workouts on the ball machine that consist of many start-and-stop points. You might have also heard this type of workout referred to as sprint training or high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
Ball Machine Cardio & Calorie Workout
Step #1 – Warm up with light jogging and racquet swings. Do not stretch and hold—you decrease your power and vertical leap and may increase your chance of injury.
Step #2 – Do one or two minutes of light hitting, warming up all of your strokes.
Step #3 – Begin 30-second rallies that have you moving left and right, forward and backward, up to the net and back to the baseline again.
Step #4 – Stop the machine and recover for one to two minutes, depending on your conditioning.
Step #5 – Repeat.
Step #6 – Take a short break for water or a chilled sports drink every five or 10 minutes, especially if you’re in the sun. As you improve your fitness, move to 45-second, then 60-second points.
Step #7 – Cool down for five minutes when you’re done with your practice. Walk around the court, shake your arms and legs and let your heart rate come down to less then 100 beats per minute.
Step #8 – Static stretch at the end of practice. You’ll improve flexibility and decrease stiffness and soreness later.
This type of training not only burns more calories, but each time you stop, your body recovers, just like it will during a tennis match. Your bloodstream will take lactic acid (a bad chemical) away from your muscles as your muscles replenish their stores of ATP (a good chemical), which you need to move your muscles.
Think about it . . . you’re rarely tired during a tennis point, it’s after the point when you’re gasping for breath, trying to get ready for the next point. Aerobic exercise doesn’t give you the many recovery periods that anaerobic exercise does. Aerobic training also requires you to tire your arm muscles and fatigue your central nervous system by having you hit many, many balls without stopping. Use sprint training to improve your tennis conditioning and burn more calories.
TIP: Space your feeds far enough apart so that you are on balance when the next ball is fed and can play it proactively. Read our article on effective ball machine practices to improve your playing ability. Part of this workout aims to improve your tennis footwork and shot-making ability. Don’t reactively play balls and start flicking your wrist or not taking the last step because you are out of position.
Practice like you play, or you’ll play like you practice!
Better to hit 100 balls perfectly (that’s all your brain will store), than 1,000 balls of varying quality.